TAROT TIP: Consider Kabbalah

Tree of Life diagram
Even though Tarot is a rich, deep system that’s absolutely chock-full of multilayered symbolism, this doesn’t stop Tarot fans from trying to map additional systems onto it in an effort to wring even more meaning from its sublime framework. You can find decks and books in which Tarot people have done their best to weave Astrology into Tarot, or Runes, or the I Ching. Some will even use elements from fields that don’t have any underlying structure as metaphysical systems at all – for instance, some resources will tell you that a certain type of crystal goes with each card, or a specific animal does, or a kind of plant.

And to be honest, as long as you don’t swallow any one person’s associations as “The Gospel,” and you apply some critical analysis of your own as to whether you actually see some real fitness and utility, then working with assignments like these can be extremely helpful in a brain-stretching sort of way.

But the one system that seems to lend itself the most naturally to being spliced into a new fusion with Tarot is the field of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah, and in particular, the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life.

Fotothek_df_tg_0006103_Theosophie_^_Alchemie_^_Judentum_^_KabbalaSidenote: as with many words and phrases that have found their ways into the English-speaking world from languages that use completely different alphabets, you’ll find multiple spellings for “Kabbalah.” I use this spelling because it was the first one I learned, but you’ll also see things like Qabalah and Cabala, plus other subtle variants of all of these. No one spelling is “The Right One,” and they’re all more or less the same as each other in terms of their basic meanings, although they do each seem to be picking up their own somewhat varying connotations in modern metaphysics as the years go by. Still, it’s probably best not to get too hung up on this point, and definitely don’t let anyone make you feel dunderheaded because they’ve decided to dump on your chosen spelling!

But anyway, the point is that Kabbalah and Tarot do seem to dovetail pretty readily. Simple numbers play a huge factor in this.

The Tree of Life – Kabbalah’s magic mega-glyph that represents all reality – has 10 spheres (called “Sephiroth,” or if singular, each one is a “Sephira”) and 22 pathways that interconnect these spheres.

And then hey, look: Tarot has 10 numbered cards in each Suit of the Minor Arcana, and 22 Major cards! There’s one type of numbered Tarot card to go with each Tree of Life Sephira, with nothing left over and nothing unused, and the same goes for correspondences among Major Tarot cards and Tree of Life pathways! It’s neat, it’s efficient, and nothing feels forced.

In contrast, accepted mapping of Astrology onto Tarot struggles in that Astrology has an ill-fitting number of primary symbols to work with here: a variable number of Planets (depending on your astrological preferences), 12 Zodiac Signs, 12 Houses, and dozens of possible Planet-in-Sign placements. There’s no neat and obvious method for assigning these to the Tarot cards without getting a bit clunky, and also leaving many astrological symbols on the cutting room floor.

Similarly, the earliest Runic alphabet has 24 symbols. How do you map that onto the 22-card Major Arcana? The 56-card Minor Arcana? The full 78-card deck? No easy answers.

The same holds true for the I-Ching, with its 64 hexagrams. You could shoot for a one-to-one mapping of symbols of the 64 hexagrams onto the 78 cards, but you’d then have 14 cards with no hexagrams assigned to them. Do 14 cards therefore go hexagram-less? Or do you let 14 hexagrams be allocated to two cards each? And in either case, how do you choose which symbols get left out or counted double? The math doesn’t lend itself well to these types of mapping exercises in any of these cases.

But not only does the Tree of Life sidestep these logistical tar-pits, but it also adds an attractive new layer of interpretive possibility, in that each Hebrew letter – of which there are a convenient 22! – carries its own occult meaning. Take a look:

#

Tarot Card

Hebrew Letter

Meaning

Tree of Life Path #

0

The Fool

א Aleph

Ox

11

1

The Magician

בBet

House

12

2

The High Priestess

גGimel

Camel

13

3

The Empress

ד Daled

Door

14

4

The Emperor

ה Heh

Window

15

5

The Hierophant

ו Vau

Nail

16

6

The Lovers

ז Zayin

Sword

17

7

The Chariot

חCheth

Fence

18

8

Strength

טTeth

Serpent

19

9

The Hermit

יYod

Hand

20

10

The Wheel of Fortune

כKaph

Palm

21

11

Justice

לLamed

Ox-goad

22

12

The Hanged Man

מMem

Water

23

13

Death

נ Nun

Fish

24

14

Temperance

סSamekh

Tent-peg, Prop

25

15

The Devil

עAyin

Eye

26

16

The Tower

פPeh

Mouth

27

17

The Star

צTsaddi

Fish-hook

28

18

The Moon

קQoph

Back of head

29

19

The Sun

ר Resh

Head

30

20

Judgement

שShin

Tooth

31

21

The World

תTau

Cross, Mark

32

The Tower_thothIn fact, once you’re aware of these meanings, you can play spot-the-Kabbalah-reference with your decks. Many deck creators take pains to include visual representations of these Hebrew letter meanings in their Tarot cards. For example, in the famous Thoth deck, Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris clearly knew that the Tower card is associated with the Hebrew letter Peh, and Peh means “mouth.” Take a look at the card image – it will take you little more than a millisecond or two to locate the giant, gaping, flame-spewing mouth in the visuals.

And once you get familiar with these meanings, you can add them to your Tarot card interpretations when you perform readings. Consider how The Hierophant is associated with the concept of a nail. The former is a symbol of structure, and the latter is a device used to build things. But then, a nail left lying around can also be a threat to the integrity of one’s feet, as nails can puncture and penetrate, and if rusty, they can even infect. This little added slice of nail-meaning can then reflect back onto The Hierophant: if the teachings of this card’s central character are used carefully, then much like nails, they can help us to create immense structures that greatly benefit humanity…but if employed recklessly, they can cause grievous injury by stabbing us in our most tender and vulnerable spots…

So if you’re on the prowl for new add-ons that you can incorporate into your Tarot practice, you could do far worse than exploring Kabbalah and the Tree of Life…

Learn Tarot with me! I offer PRIVATE LESSONS, and you can also score your own copy of the TAROT TOOLKIT ONLINE COURSE, a 10-session series of classes with its own 120-page PDF Workbook:

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